PANTHER OF THE WEEK: Gilbert runs his way to championship, earns two 1st Place finishes

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By Lance Catchings

Senior Walker Gilbert competed in the District 27-4A track meet for Liberty Hill last week and walked away with two gold medals — one in the 400-meter dash and the other in the 4×400-meter relay.

Gilbert, who also competes in cross country, has had an outstanding season running the 400-meter dash, and he believes it is his distance running background that has helped with his success in track.

“I have run cross country every year since the seventh grade,” Gilbert said. “I have always been fairly decent in long distance and sprinting. I feel like cross country running has really helped with my endurance. When your legs start burning in the 400-meter dash, I have some tolerance built up from cross country to help me push through. I also think cross country has also helped me maintain my top speed for longer because I have that endurance already built up.”

Gilbert said another reason he has found success is due to the extra time and effort he has put into training. His senior year, he wanted to hold nothing back.

“I started running after school in my off periods back in December to prepare for track season,” he said. “I was working out on my own and with the girls’ team some. We really started practicing hard in late January and have been going hard since then. This year, with me being a senior, I just wanted to give it my all and leave it all out on the track with no regrets. Our 4×400-meter relay last year got third at regionals and only the top two go to state. We were really bummed about that last year and really want to get to state this year.”

The 400-meter dash, also known as the quarter or open quarter, is one lap around the track – an all-out sprint. Only the toughest and strongest runners compete in the race. Gilbert admits early on the race intimidated him, but he has grown to love it.

“When I first started running track, the 400-meter dash was actually the race I did not want to do,” he said. “I ended up being thrown into it and being decent at it and have been stuck with it ever since. They call it the toughest race in track, and it is for a good reason. Usually by that last 100 meters, your whole body hurts. When I finish a race, if I win, I usually feel pretty good, but it definitely takes a toll on your body.”

Gilbert won the 27-4A district championship in the 400 with a time of 49.5. He also helped his 4×400-meter relay team to a first-place finish and took third in the 200-meter dash. Gilbert never thought he would be running as fast as he currently is.

“It is an awesome feeling being the district champion in that race,” he said. “I was able to run it and win it, and running it with my teammate Kelly Robinson was a great experience. We get to push each other, and that makes it a lot of fun. I never saw me running the times I am running now or having this much success with the race this season. Last year, I only ran the open 400-meter dash once and I ran a 51, but some of my relay splits were mid to low 50s. I never thought I would be able to run a low 49 like I am this year.”

Gilbert’s focus now is helping to get his 4×400-meter relay team to the State Track Meet.

“Our goal is to win state this year in the 4×400-meter relay,” he said. “We just broke the record we set last year, last week at district, so we want to keep lowering our time down and improving. Being anchor leg on that race for that team comes with some pressure, but I don’t want to let my teammates and my coaches down. I want them to know I will give everything I’ve got in every race. Being able to run with my teammates is awesome, and that’s what I enjoy the most. The 4×400-meter relay is always the last race of the night and everyone is watching. When I see my teammates going around the track, I feel a little bit of nerves. When I get the baton, I always feel like I have nothing to lose, so I just give it my all.”

Liberty Hill is hosting the area round track meet next week, and Gilbert is excited for the chance to run in his hometown one last time.

“We have the area meet coming up, and I feel like we have an advantage since it will be on our home field,” he said. “If people can come out, watch and support, I feel that will be a big help to us. Running in front of our home crowd one last time as a senior will be awesome.”

The area track meet will take place Monday at Panther Stadium.

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